Saturday, February 2, 2013

War on "The Science of Yoga"

William J. Broad, author of the book "The Science of Yoga", recently wrote a follow-up to the book, citing new evidence of how yoga can potentially hurt people including national statistics from hospitals, personal letters he received those who have injured themselves badly from yoga, and example of serious strokes and death resulted of several individuals during of after taking a yoga class. The comments section attacked him on obfuscation and exaggeration and other things. There were a couple of follow-up articles discussing people's strong responses to Broad's claim about yoga's potential to cause serious injuries, and heated discussions followed those articles too.

It seems like yoga has become a religion for some people, with no room for suggestions that it could potentially cause harm to some people when done incorrectly and when hard postures are performed by bodies with certain pre-existing medical conditions. The defenders of yoga say that, "Well then, it's the carelessness of these people and the medical conditions that caused harm to them, NOT YOGA!" Um, could you have some compassion for beginners and people who are naturally less body-aware, dear yoga-defenders? Yoga has been heavily advertised to be safe and suitable for stiff people, obese people, those who are totally unfit, pregnant women, toddlers, seniors and cancer patients. So for people who don't have full awareness/understanding of their body parts, when they do a headstand and can't tell if it's their neck bearing all the weight or if their back muscles and arms participate in the posture, and then they seriously hurt themselves, are you going to tell them how dare they muck up yoga's low injury rate statistics?

Yoga is really not that mythical. Basically, it includes exercising, stretches, deep breathing, and self awareness (including body and thought patterns). The first 3 components de-stress and rejuvenates us. By being more self-aware, we are less like auto-pilots and can make more healthy conscious choices about our lives, despite all the societal conditioning in the world. Problem is that the image of yoga is such an idealized system that we again shut off part of our thinking brain and say, "Yoga is perfect, why criticize it at all? Just follow the system and we're all set to live our lives correctly." Well, since  humans are not perfect beings, we are bound to muck up any system that seems "perfect", by not engaging the proper muscles, over-squeezing the bandhas, dumping into our most flexible joints, stand on our heads without realizing we have ultra-high blood pressure/glaucoma etc. On the spiritual side I also found it difficult to be able to tell teachers who were preaching wise messages vs. those who were preaching bullsh*t for the longest time.

But it's the mysticism that keeps us so fervent about yoga, maybe. The fierce criticizers are worried the discussion will turn people away from yoga. For me, I enjoy "dangerous" sports like snowboarding and rock climbing, so it's not a problem for me to be aware of the potential dangers of yoga. I learned it the hard way that I personally can't take most anusara classes because the over-emphasis of hip opening and "heart opening" instructions are horrible for my body. It's possible for me to take it easy, but I have a tendency to try to do every pose to the fullest, and my hips feel totally unstable afterwards. It wasn't until I understood the anatomy and goals of yoga asanas a few years later that I understood that I cannot just take any yoga classes and follow all teachers' instructions blindly. Luckily I haven't had any serious injuries, but for me it's easy to see how injuries could potentially happen with misunderstanding of instructions and not knowing one's own limits in the body.

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